Imagine you’re in a new country, you’re far from your family or friends, you don’t speak the local language, and you’re broke. Now imagine you were brought here with false promises of a good job, or even a fake relationship. Imagine you then find out there is no job, or your relationship is one of deceit. Imagine you’re a victim of a human trafficking network.
What do you do? And who do you turn to for help?
Every day, women and girls from Mexico and other parts of Latin America face these same questions as they seek ways to exit sex trafficking situations in the United States. It’s crucial to build a network of community organizations that are equipped to respond to the complex trauma these victims have experienced in a way that respects their unique cultural and linguistic backgrounds.
Through Polaris’s work with partners across the U.S., we know that people impacted by sex trafficking from Mexico often speak Spanish or other native languages and dialects. Service providers need to be prepared to meet these survivors’ specific needs, and to help them access critical resources and navigate the web of challenges they face.
Why Advocate for Survivors?
In August, I had the opportunity to meet 18 advocates, case managers, and therapists representing 15 domestic violence, sexual assault and youth serving organizations from across the United States. Polaris and the Sanar Wellness Institute hosted a two-day training at the Grace Farms Foundation facility in New Canaan, CT. The training addressed topics related to acknowledging and responding to the traumatic experiences that have impacted victims of sex trafficking from Mexico, and understanding how this issue fits into the broader human trafficking landscape.
Our hope is that by training organizations that already serve Latina or Hispanic women in other capacities, we can expand the safety net for those affected by this type of trafficking. Over the course of the training, I learned about the service providers’ work and the challenges they face, as well as what initially brought them to this field.
It was common to hear how there is always so much work to do, and how at times, it feels exhausting and never-ending. Then, we remember why we’re here. We see how a survivor’s life is changed by learning how to ride public transportation, enrolling in school, getting a first apartment, landing a job, or seeing his or her children’s progress. Personally, I have accompanied clients to appointments and have seen firsthand how systems are complicated to navigate and often require advocacy by social service organizations.
We are fortunate that there are organizations throughout the U.S. that are able to respond to the needs of trafficking victims and survivors, and we need to further strengthen this safety net by equipping more service providers with training and resources, a nd supporting them in their work.
In 2015, Polaris launched a Strategic Initiative to combat the sex trafficking of women and girls from Mexico. Through this project, we have the opportunity to train, equip, and connect service providers on both sides of the border to grow and strengthen the network of resources available to this population of survivors.
As we forge ahead, we will continue to focus on ensuring that these survivors have a strong safety net of organizations that are prepared to meet their needs through a client-centered, culturally competent approach – whether the survivors find themselves in the U.S. or in Mexico.
Our August training for U.S.-based service providers is one example of our efforts in this direction. In the fall, we will be looking to replicate the training with more groups across the U.S. and building on this work with a convening with service providers in Mexico.
We look forward to collaborating with this cross-border network of service providers to support each other in our work to address this type of sex trafficking. I’m motivated by knowing that there are many individuals and organizations throughout both of these countries that are fighting the same fight to make a positive impact on survivors’ lives.